Orujo, the essential oil of the circular economy and innovation

Mariano CebrianFOLLOW, CONTINUESeville Updated: 05/08/2022 11:37 a.m.
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The olive is a true emblem of the circular economy, and also of innovation. Beyond olive oil, which represents only 20% of what is extracted from this fruit, there are 80% of by-products derived from this symbol of the Spanish countryside that have multiple and unknown uses. From these residues of the ground and pressed olives, the
Orujo oil
. And as several studies confirm, the 'little brother' of olive oil is also rich in oleic acid, contains antioxidants and other bioactive compounds with potential beneficial properties for health. The most recent, led by the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), shows that its consumption protects against Alzheimer's disease.

But in addition to being the basis of the second best vegetable oil, olive residues have many other unknown lives: they can be converted into biomass to generate clean energy, transformed into compost and natural and sustainable fertilizers, they have applications in cosmetics... Around pomace there is an entire research ecosystem that continues to generate new utilities. The starting point to know all this is Andalusia, the community that leads the data of the olive cultivation area in Spain. A land where the view is lost on the horizon contemplating a sea of ​​olive trees, which the newspaper ABC has recently crossed on a trip to discover in situ a variant of the olive sector, that of pomace oil, of which Spain is the first world producer.

According to data from the sector, there were more than 131,000 tons during the last campaign, with forecasts to remain in the current one and even to grow due to the invasion of Ukraine due to competition from sunflower, says the president of the Interprofessional of Pomace Oil of Oliva (Oriva), Jose Luis Master. Among his achievements, there is also the fact that he has launched several lines of research with his own funds and for this year, in addition, they hope to obtain the environmental seal.

investigative engine

One of the main axes on which this environmental and innovative commitment of the sector revolves is the Institute of Fat, a center created in 1947 and a pioneer in the study of this product that is located within the Campus of the Pablo de Olavide University in Seville. . Immersed in its 75th anniversary, it depends on the CSIC.

According to Javier Sánchez Perona, one of the heads of this institute, "it was created because there was a need to carry out research for the olive oil and table olives industry." Now there are already many research groups focused on these foods and even on other oil plants, but the Fat Institute was a pioneer in "researching to obtain quality, healthy and safe foods, while being environmentally sustainable".

Among the investigations carried out in this center, a study financed by Oriva stands out, which has shown that the consumption of olive pomace oil protects against Alzheimer's disease. The director of this project is, precisely, the scientist Javier Sánchez Perona, who highlights the properties of this product because "due to the way it is extracted and processed, it contains a series of components, many of which have biological activity." In some cases, he points out, "this biological activity is very powerful and has to do above all with antioxidants and anti-inflammatories."

Researcher at the Fat Institute, a center dependent on the CSIC in Seville

In particular, the compounds that olive pomace oil contains and that have to do with it are tocopherols, sterols and triterpenes, among which oleanolic acid stands out, which is what the olive tree contains above all. "Alzheimer's disease is characterized by a loss of neurons, which is associated with an accumulation of two proteins - beta-amyloid and tau protein - in the brain, where an inflammatory-type phenomenon also occurs. This fact is very similar to the inflammation caused by cardiovascular problems, by the accumulation of fat in the arteries”, explains the scientist.

The hypothesis maintained by Sánchez Perona's team is that these same particles, those that transport dietary fat, can cross the brain's blood-brain barrier and interact with cells of the immune system that are in this organ. "When this interaction occurs -he points out-, an inflammatory-type phenomenon can also occur and that would be associated with the development of Alzheimer's." “Our idea is that if we manage to insert the bioactive compounds of olive pomace oil into these lipoproteins, when we consume it, the activation of microglia will be attenuated and there will be less inflammation, which is what occurs with the disease. of Alzheimer's and, therefore, prevent its effects", he says.

like the pig

The trip also served to certify the possibilities that alperujo opens up to the circular economy. "Everything is used from the olive, like from the pig," says Francisco Quero, head of the olive pomace oil extraction plant in Puente Genil (Córdoba), managed by Sedebisa. «Thanks to the pomace sector, the integral use of alperujo or wet fatty pomace is achieved. This is the name of the material left over in the oil mills after the extraction of olive oil and it accounts for up to 80% of the olives, a percentage that shows the magnitude of the environmental work carried out by this industry”, explains Quero.

According to AICA, in the 2020/2021 campaign, the industry valued 8.7 million tons of alperujo in different applications. Thus, in that period, the orujeras obtained 1.4 million tons of olive pomace, bone and pulp, as well as ashes for uses such as compost or biomass. In this way, all the by-products generated by the olive campaign are used 100% and thanks to sophisticated industrial processes of drying, extraction and refining, the alperujo allows uses of great interest: the majority, 60%, is transformed in steam; 38% is converted into biomass, a sustainable energy source used both for the self-consumption of the pomace industry, in a small proportion, and for its commercialization and, finally, the remaining 2% approximately gives rise to crude pomace oil, which is transported to the refiner to convert it into olive pomace oil.

The water, the bones, the pulp and the skin of the ground olive become the HUMID FAT MARC.

A material used by the pomace industry to obtain Olive Pomace Oil.

We tell you: https://t.co/rKt4P1rWRj

— Olive Pomace Oil (@AceiteOrujo) April 28, 2022

An example of this is the refining plant managed by Proteínas del Olivo SA (Prodasa) in the Sevillian town of La Luisiana, where Jaime Osta, commercial director of the company and, in turn, vice president of Oriva, taught how the process works. Created in 1942, this plant has been increasing due to the growth of the olive grove area and the production of olive oil, which obviously goes hand in hand with pomace oil. Something that has occurred, especially, in recent decades.

"The main quality (of olive pomace oil) is its excellent frying behavior," says Jaime Osta, who adds that this characteristic is backed by different CSIC studies that show that it is "the best oil to subject to high temperatures for its resistance to oxidation. An unknown circular world full of possibilities.

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